Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Geo-Everything -- 3rd Horizon Report 2009 Trend

The third major trend identified by the Horizon Report 2009 (http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2009-Horizon-Report.pdf) that is expected to effect higher education is “Geo-Everything.” The horizon timeline for this trend is 2-3 year “out.” The Horizon Report’s opening statement on this trend follows:

Everything on the Earth’s surface has a location that can be expressed with just two coordinates. Using the new classes of geolocation tools, it is very easy to determine and capture the exact location of physical objects — as well as capturing the location where digital media such as photographs and video are taken. The other side of this coin is that it is also becoming easier to work with the geolocative data thus captured: it can be plotted on maps; combined with data about other events, objects, or people; graphed; charted; or manipulated in myriad ways. Devices we commonly carry with us increasingly have the ability to know where they (and, consequently, we) are, and to record our coordinates as we take photographs, talk to friends, or post updates to social networking websites. The “everything” in geo-everything is what makes this group of technologies interesting, and what will make them so much a part of our lives — geolocation, geotagging, and location-aware devices are already very nearly everywhere. Geo-coded data (phones, cameras)

In essence geotagging is already here; its full application is yet to be seen, but already

  • Many camera images are geo-tagged when the image is captured so you can record and determine the exact location where the images originated.

  • It’s no longer a time-consuming effort to geo-tag images (as was the case in the past) with the images’ physical location; it’s now largely automatic for cameras and mobiles already on the market and in use.
  • A number of web-based applications exist that accept geo-tagged data and respond based on the user’s current location. One example is http://outside.in/radar/welcome which displays local news, a Google map of the location, instant alerts, blog posts and more. Buzzd.com (http://buzzd.com) is another example of what the site self-describes as “the mobile key to your city.”

Educational uses of geotagging are already emerging, such as Rachel Leow’s tagging of sites from The Travels of Marco Polo using images from Google Maps, Google Images, Wikipedia and the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica (see http://idlethink.wordpress.com/2008/08/31/indulgence-sin/).

For a fitness class, Community Walk (http://www.communitywalk.com) enables the user to create a jogging or walking route using geotagged data (latitude and longitude), by clicking on a map location (for each turn) or by entering addresses. Each custom map can be annotated with geotagged data and photos stored (pulled from) Flickr.com.

For fine art or photography classes, PaintMap.com (http://paintmap.com) can be used to indicate the physical location of the subject of a work of art. Imagine mapping the physical location of an end-of-the-semester photography class’ exhibits of best works or creating a geotagged map of the physical locations of all of Michelangelo’s works.

In summary, when the physical location of an object or individual adds to the instructional value of a discipline, geotagging may be a future educational trend that can enhance the learning process.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cloud Computing: Follow-up

I received a couple of follow-up email messages on the last post and want to share the author's additional insights. The responses are listed below as received.

From Justin Dugger: I appreciate concept, but these examples aren’t really highlighting the “compute” in cloud computing.

A better example might be Replacing a Pixar renderfarm with Amazon’s EC2 service (http://aws.amazon.com/ec2/). EC2 allows you to basically rent time on Amazon’s massive cloud, and do so on demand. For example, you might when a computer modeling class wants to render a scene, rather than buy a few dozen computers that sit idle, you might buy time on EC2 and use a few thousand computers for a brief moment instead. When it’s done, those computers become part of the “cloud” again.

EC2 is marketed towards websites, where “flashcrowds” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_crowd) can overwhelm organizations not expecting a sudden spike in popularity. By using EC2, you can snap up more computers and bandwidth instantaneously to serve that traffic, and relinquish it when it dies down.

Cloud computing or not, your point about data loss and security on the web is well worth highlighting. There’s an New Yorker cartoon about the internet: “On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Internet,_nobody_knows_you%27re_a_dog). The same goes for people who run websites. Ma.gnolia [ma.gnolia.com/] ran an online bookmark service essentially out of someone’s basement on a PowerMac, and failed to institute a solid backup procedure and in the end lost every user’s bookmarks. For bookmarks, perhaps nothing of value was lost, but if Zotero were to suffer a similar fate I think many users would be in outrage.

In fact, Zotero stores your data locally rather than in the cloud, and Zotero publishes guidelines for making backups of your data (http://www.zotero.org/support/zotero_data). I think this example highlights the dangers: how can you be sure your work is safe if it’s hard to even know where it’s stored?

From Keith Krieger: I would suggest that the use of distributed computing resources to only process data is somewhat restrictive.

*Anything* that could be handled with a thin client, from tagging photos with Flickr to manipulating those photos with Adobe’s online version of Photoshop constitutes cloud computing. Or how about adding a Twitter post with a cell phone? Not much computing involved, but very much using the cloud of distributed data processing to interact with other users and data.

And the issue of security seems to arise when considering data in the cloud. We somehow forget about the 1000s of laptops lost or stolen each year, and the breaches of corporate and government data stores that have exposed many SSNs and credit card numbers. Data that is *not* in the cloud seems to be at as much risk as data in the cloud.

As for data loss, I used to be a ma.gnolia user. However, I think that was a disclosure problem rather than a data loss problem. If Larry Haff(Halff? sources differ) had disclosed that ma.gnolia was running on a computer in his basement, I’m thinking that people might have used the service with a different level of expectation, and backed up their data appropriately.

Then again, how many users back up their data appropriately to begin with? Ask people if they have a backup of their digital camera images. The numbers aren’t encouraging.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Cloud Computing--Second Horizon Report 2009 Trend

The Second major trend identified by the Horizon Report 2009 (http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2009-Horizon-Report.pdf) that is expected to effect higher education is “Cloud Computing.” The horizon timeline for this trend is 1 year or less…so it’s predicted to be an imminent educational trend. The Horizon Report’s opening statement on this trend follows:

The emergence of very large “data farms” — specialized data centers that host thousands of servers — has created a surplus of computing resources that has come to be called the cloud. Growing out of research in grid computing, cloud computing transforms once-expensive resources like disk storage and processing cycles into a readily available, cheap commodity. Development platforms layered onto the cloud infrastructure enable thin-client, web-based applications for image editing, word processing, social networking, and media creation. Many of us use the cloud, or cloud-based applications, without even being aware of it. Advances in computer science to ensure redundancy and protection from natural disasters have led to data being shared across many different hosting facilities. Improved infrastructure has made the cloud robust and reliable; as usage grows, the cloud is fundamentally changing our notions of computing and communication.

Perhaps some clarification might help in understanding this trend. With all the talk of “data farms” and “development platforms layered onto the cloud infrastructure,” cloud computing simply refers to the use of Internet-based (called the "cloud") software and storage. The essence of cloud computing means you can create and store content (documents, images, and so on) on the web rather than on your computer using web-based software rather than software installed on your local computer.

Cloud computing incorporates the concept of software as a service (SaaS), Web 2.0 and other recent, technology trends where the common theme is reliance on the Internet for access to computing power and meeting your computing needs. The best know example of cloud computing is Google Apps which provides common business applications online that are accessed using a web browser. The products created by Google Apps are documents stored online, not on your local hard drive (although those documents may be downloaded and used locally or distributed, just as you would any other document).

Additional examples of cloud computing include:

An interesting side effect of cloud computing is the proposition that telecommuting is “dead” and superseded by a growing cadre of Cloudworkers. For an interesting view, check out the Cloudworker’s Blog at http://www.ribbonfarm.com/2008/10/23/the-cloudworkers-creed/.

One negative of cloud computing is the fact that (in the words of the Horizon Report 2009) “entrusting your work and data to the cloud is also a commitment of trust that the service provider will continue to be there, even in face of changing market and other conditions.” In other words, what happens if the “cloud vendor” ceases to exist? Data security is another issue: how safe and private is your data.

These issues, for many institutions of higher education, are superseded by the cost issue. Cloud computing applications are typically free.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Mobiles - a Horizon Report 2009 Trend

The Horizon Report 2009 (http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2009-Horizon-Report.pdf) begins its list of major trends expected to effect higher education with “Mobiles.” The horizon timeline for this trend is 1 year or less…so it’s predicted to be an imminent trend to effect education. The Horizon Report’s opening statement on this trend follows:

The unprecedented evolution of mobiles continues to generate great interest. The idea of a single portable device that can make phone calls, take pictures, record audio and video, store data, music, and movies, and interact with the Internet — all of it — has become so interwoven into our lifestyles that it is now surprising to learn that someone does not carry one. As new devices continue to enter the market, new features and new capabilities are appearing at an accelerated pace. One recent feature — the ability to run third-party applications — represents a fundamental change in the way we regard mobiles and opens the door to myriad uses for education, entertainment, productivity, and social interaction.

Mobiles (also called handhelds and personal digital assistants) include broadband devices such as the Smartphone and Apple’s iPhone and iTouch iPod. The report notes the replacement of laptop or portable computers with mobiles. This is becoming a more realistic approach because many mobiles can now run 3rd party applications.

The 1.2 billion phones produced each year include new features such as location awareness (we’ll talk about geo-tagging and geo-everything as another trend) and as devices for creating and accessing content by both faculty and students. Smartphone applications can allow users to access text, calculate, and play educational games (ex. Art Masterpiece ID game, CRAM test review) as well as to integrate with web-based applications (email, ebooks, podcasts, updates to social networks like Facebook and Twitter).

New tools such as Stoneware’s WebNetwork 5e2 enable access to data from anywhere, anytime: http://www.stone-ware.com/sw/products/webnetwork.html using any device, including mobiles.

You can check out http://delicious.com/tag/hz09+mobile, which includes links tagged by the Horizon Advisory Board and friends. Simply follow the link to find additional resources and examples of this trend. You can add to this list, by tagging resources with “hz09” and “mobile” when you save them to Delicious.

Tomorrow: trend #2, Cloud Computing.

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